Bazalgette's Arts Council job has Big Brother haters in a spin

Sep 5, 2012

Chairing the Arts Council 'is about lifting public taste not reducing it to the level of the sewer' says Strong

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THE newly appointed chairman of the Arts Council, Sir Peter Bazalgette, arguably has done more than anyone else to dumb down British television by introducing Big Brother to the UK.

However, others argue that he has done more than most to help wrest television content from high-minded Oxbridge-educated producers and deliver it into the hands of ordinary people who actually watch TV.

That argument has failed to convince his detractors – who generally have reacted with horror at his appointment to the Arts Council job by outgoing Culture Secretary, Jeremy Hunt.

"When you consider being chair of the Arts Council, one would hope it is about lifting and maintaining public taste instead of contributing to reducing it to the level of the sewer - because Big Brother certainly did," Sir Roy Strong, a former director of the V&A and the National Portrait Gallery, told the Daily Mail.
Labour MP Denis MacShane, also approached by the Mail, said it was "very worrying" that someone who has "dumbed down, trivialised and sexualised mass TV viewing with Big Brother has been put in charge of British culture".
Tate director Sir Nicholas Serota told The Daily Telegraph he was "deeply disappointed" that Liz Forgan, who has chaired the Arts Council since February 2009, was leaving.

City AM's Jim Waterson suggested it was a "final 'screw you culture guys' by Jeremy Hunt" before he sailed off to the Department of Health in yesterday's cabinet reshuffle.

Comedian Mark Thomas tweeted: "Peter Bazalgette appointed chair of Arts Council England just to wring out today's last ounce of hollow laughter.”
The Daily Mail's theatre critic and sketch writer Quentin Letts was particularly scathing of the appointment when it was mooted in June. "Once, rich publicly-minded men aspired to raise the tastes of the populous," he wrote. "However, this one made his money from lowering them, by pressing our snouts in the gutter and starving us of knowledge."
But Philip Davies, a Tory MP on the Commons culture, media and sport select committee, has said he is prepared to give Bazalgette a chance. "Just because someone brings Big Brother to television doesn't mean they are a Philistine when it comes to the arts.”
And there was a warm welcome from Arts Council England chief executive, Alan Davey, who released a statement describing the new appointment as "excellent".
"Peter is a great philanthropic contributor to the arts; an enthusiast who has done amazing work with English National Opera and has helped the Arts Council over the years to develop our digital thinking," he said. "We look forward to working with him."

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The whole centralised structure of arts funding is completely wrong in the UK. That's why the live performing arts are in such a terrible state up and down the country. Drip-feeding subsidy to projects, and favouring just a comparatively few theatre, dance, music and opera institutions simply does not nurture a continuing regional public at all. And the variety of serious work on a proper scale even in London is questionably limited. The reason it works in Germany so much better (in terms of quantity and structure - not necessarily that the results are always artistically ideal or rewarding) is that central government which oversees the raising of revenue genuinely does not spend the lot or instruct local government what to do. The federal system means genuine decisions are made nearer those affected, and there is a working system of mayors and proper appropriate local government. The British system of centralised patronage and depending on hand-outs from the seriously rich is no way to make the arts feel owned by people at the local level and part of what they care locally about.